Experts offer 12 steps to emotional wellness.
By Sylvia Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
- Boost Your Emotional Health Center
- Causes of Fatigue Slideshow Pictures
- Take the Happiness Quiz!
- How Pets Improve Your Health Slideshow Pictures
- Happiness FAQs
- Find a local Psychiatrist in your town
You know you need to take care of your physical health, but have you been doing enough to maintain a healthy emotional balance? Here are 12 tips from the experts for reducing stress, managing negative emotions, and improving your emotional wellness.
1. Collect Friends
You need people, lots of them.
"If you look at all the theories of psychotherapy, people who have a lot of social support are happier," says Rebecca Curtis, PhD, a professor of psychology at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., and director of research at the W.A. White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Psychoanalysis in New York City.
The opposite is true, also. "We all need to be checking out our thoughts with other people, and people get weirder and weirder the more they stay alone," Curtis says.
If the friends-of-friends-of-friends chain reaction that had kept your life stocked with new relationships has fizzled out -- for example, if you have moved to a new place where you don't know anyone -- try taking a more active role. But instead of trying to chat up folks at the local watering hole, sign up for a class that involves a lot of social interaction.
"It's easier to meet people if there's some kind of a structured discussion about a certain subject," says Muriel James, PhD, psychologist and author of It's Never Too Late to Be Happy.
2. Enjoy Solitude
This step may seem to contradict the first one, but actually it complements it. Some isolation can be quite healthy.
"The isolation that comes when people have given up on other people is the problem," Curtis says.
Avoid this extreme, but don't be such a social butterfly that you lose yourself completely. Take time to "sit with your feelings," Curtis says, without distractions.
Some call this meditation, but it doesn't have to be done in the lotus position. For example, if you spend an hour alone in the car every day, keep the radio off, and listen to your thoughts instead.
Haven't got an hour alone? Try a three-minute meditation: close your door, turn off the phone, then close your eyes. Take deep breaths, focusing on your breath as it goes in and out. If thoughts come to you, just bring yourself back to your breathing. Then think about a beautiful image, a flower, a child's face; look at every detail. Then, gradually, breathe faster and open your eyes.
3. Get Fit
We're not saying, "Look fabulous in time for swimsuit season." Just get your body moving. Study after study has shown that exercise lifts mood and generally enhances quality of life.
Break any vicious cycles you see happening, which get in the way of adding positive things like exercise to your daily routine. Booze, cigarettes, overeating, junk food, or all these together are an impediment to physical activity, and overindulging leads to more of the same.
It's important for emotional health to maintain your physical health in all the ways you can. So get enough sleep; eat regular, balanced meals; and take time for relaxation as well.
4. Seek Pleasure
This may also seem like a contradiction, but moderation in all things is the message here. Everyone knows that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Overly rigorous devotion to work drives you batty.
Still, it's easy to become consumed by your responsibilities and to neglect your own enjoyment of life.
In his book, Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement, psychologist Kenneth Christian, PhD, directs readers to add something positive and pleasurable to their life, do it every day, and make it permanent.
5. Find a Passion
If you don't know what your purpose in life is, start smaller. "Make a list of things you want to do before you die," Christian says. Don't be shy about writing down wild schemes. If your first list is uninspiring, make another one. Keep making lists and look for any recurring themes.
Identifying an interest and pursuing it can develop into a rich and exciting life that you'd never imagined you'd have. "Not all that helps us reach goals is linear," Christian says. Ask yourself, "What cooks for me?" he says.
6. Plan for Problems
Instead of expecting everything in your life to go smoothly -- some things will, and some definitely won't -- or worrying about what will happen to you if things go wrong, plan for potential problems.
Some problems blindside us, but others are more predictable. Muriel James gives an example: If you think you may have to get up in the middle of the night, will you fret about possibly tripping over things in the dark, or will you turn on a night light?
7. Seek Constructive Criticism
"Often people are doing things to mess themselves up, but they really don't have a clue of what is going wrong," Rebecca Curtis says. For example, "They really may not be aware of how they're acting with people."
You probably are very charming -- but maybe you are rubbing people the wrong way. Too much self-consciousness can paralyze you socially, but don't be oblivious to how others perceive you.
The same goes for your work. Don't be afraid to ask, "Am I doing a good job?"
8. Take Healthy Risks
People need to approach what they feel anxious about," Curtis says. This doesn't mean you should force yourself into terrifying situations needlessly. But if you never leave your comfort zone, your life will be all the poorer for it.
9. Manage Success Well
"If at First You Do Succeed, Try Thinking Like a Woman," is the title of a chapter in Reclaiming the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout, by Steven Berglas, PhD.
"Women hold on to relationships with competitors. Men litter the battlefield with corpses," says Berglas, a psychologist at the John E. Anderson School of Management at UCLA.
Spreading your success around, rather than jealously guarding it, promotes better emotional health by continuing to build your sense of self-worth. "If success ends your ability to build self-esteem, or if you're not building self-esteem, you're just resting on it, then you start committing crazy acts," Berglas says.
People who get bored with their success, he says, "start looking for ways to dare the devil and beat him." Eventually they lose.
Emotional Wellness Resources
10. Don't Go It Alone
Psychologists would urge just about everyone to get into therapy. None of us make it to adulthood emotionally unscathed, and there are mental health experts waiting to help you.
"It's the 21st century," Curtis says. "Don't be a dinosaur and insist on doing it all by yourself."
11. Write It Down
Identify negative thoughts and don't let them ambush you, says Judith Orloff, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at UCLA. "Don't beat yourself up for being stressed, but bring your fears into the open on paper. Make a list of your seven worst fears."
Then, she says, make a second list of the things you are grateful for.
Irwin says he did much the same with a family member who was getting down and negative. Parents need to teach children to make a list of positives, too.
Writing the negatives bleeds them of power. They become words on paper.
12. Protect Yourself from 'Energy Vampires'
The Drama Queen, the Sob Sister, the Constant Talker, the Blamer - do you know any of these people? Chances are, you do. And any of them can wear you out
You need to learn to set boundaries," Orloff says. "Listen for awhile, then break off the interchange. People are so afraid to do this. They don't want to seem impolite. You need to be firm, though kind."
The same goes for technology, which can be an overwhelming stressor. "People go into despair when their computer breaks (or they forget their cell phone for a day).
"Don't let your computer hypnotize you. Get outside, at least look outside!"
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Emotional Wellness Related Articles
Men's SecretsWhat do men really want you to know about them? For better intimacy, learn these 18 secrets guys wish you Knew about sex, love, and marriage.
Alcohol Abuse SlidesRead about the health risks of chronic heavy or binge drinking. Anemia, cancer, gout, cardiovascular disease and many more disease can be caused from heavy or binge drinking.
Alternative Therapy for Multiple SclerosisThe term alternative therapy, in general, is used to describe any medical treatment or intervention that has not been scientifically documented or identified as safe or effective for a specific condition. Alternative therapy encompasses a variety of disciplines that range from diet and exercise to mental conditioning to lifestyle changes.
Alzheimer's Disease Causes, Stages, and Symptoms
Alzheimer's disease is a common cause of dementia. Symptoms and warning signs of Alzheimer's disease include memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, disorientation to time and place, misplacing things, and more. The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is increased age. Treatment for Alzheimer's is often targeted toward decreasing the symptoms and progression of the disease.
Alzheimer's Disease Patient Caregiver GuideCaring for a loved one or patient with Alzheimer's can become a difficult and overwhelming task at times. This guide helps caregivers of individual's with Alzheimer's deal with communicating, bathing, and dressing; as well as problem solving with incontinence, sleeping, wandering; and coping with difficulties Alzheimer's patients present.
AnxietyAnxiety is a feeling of apprehension and fear characterized by symptoms such as trouble concentrating, headaches, sleep problems, and irritability. Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect approximately 19 million American adults. Treatment for anxiety may incorporate medications and psychotherapy.
Cystic FibrosisCystic fibrosis is a disease of the mucus and sweat glands. Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease. The outcome of the disease leaves the body malnourished, with bulky and fouls smelling stools, vitamin insufficiency, gas, painful or swollen abdomen, infertility, susceptible to heat emergencies, and respiratory failure. There is no cure for cystic fibrosis, treatment of symptoms is used to manage the disease.
Depression QuizMany people do not recognize the symptoms and warning signs of depression and depressive disorders in children and adults. With proper diagnosis, treatments and medications are available. Take this quiz to learn more about recovery from depression.
Take the Happiness QuizTake the Happiness Quiz! Plenty of people live in pleasant, fulfilling satisfaction. Is it sex or money that factors into happier lives and long-term bliss? Take the quiz and find out for yourself!
Menopause QuizThe Menopause Quiz challenges your knowledge about the time in a woman’s life when menstruation ceases. Menopause can bring many physical, mental and sexual challenges to maturing women, but they don’t have to be limiting. Take the Menopause Quiz to learn the causes, symptoms and treatments of what’s known as "the change of life."
Menstrual Cramps and PMS Medication GuideMenstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating, a feeling of fullness, abdominal pain, mood swings, anxiety and more. Treatment for menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms include regular sleep, exercise, smoking cessation, diet changes, and OTC or prescription medication depending on the severity of the condition.
Mental Health (Psychology)Mental health is an optimal way of thinking, relating to others, and feeling. All of the diagnosable mental disorders fall under the umbrella of mental illness. Depression, anxiety, and substance-abuse disorders are common types of mental illness. Symptoms and signs of mental illness include irritability, moodiness, insomnia, headaches, and sadness. Treatment may involve psychotherapy and medication.
Concentration KillersLearn the truth about multitasking, email overload, nagging thoughts, hunger, and other brain drains of modern life. See what's destroying your focus and quick solutions to help concentration.
Post-Polio SyndromePost-polio syndrome (PPS) is a group of signs and symptoms that show up two to four decades after the initial polio infection. Symptoms of PPS include fatigue, pain, sleep disorders, muscle twitching, gastrointestinal problems, and weakness. Treatment focuses on slowing down to conserve energy and relieving symptoms with pain relievers.
Benefits of SexHow would you like a stronger immune system or better sleep? Action between the sheets can help you get all of this and more. Read on to discover the surprising health benefits of sex.
A number of vital tasks carried out during sleep help maintain good health and enable people to function at their best. Sleep needs vary from individual to individual and change throughout your life. The National Institutes of Health recommend about 7-9 hours of sleep each night for older, school-aged children, teens, and most average adults; 10-12 for preschool-aged children; and 16-18 hours for newborns. There are two stages of sleep; 1) REM sleep (rapid-eye movement), and 2) NREM sleep (non-rapid-eye movement). The side effects of lack of sleep or insomnia include:
- Feeling sleepy during the day
- Concentration or memory problems
Lack of sleep and insomnia can be caused by medical conditions or diseases, medications, stress, or pain. The treatment for lack of sleep and insomnia depends upon the cause.
SuicideSuicide is the process of intentionally ending one's own life. Approximately 1 million people worldwide commit suicide each year, and 10 million to 20 million attempt suicide annually.